Thursday, April 2, 2015

Stay here, and keep watch

When I was 14 or 15, the pastor of my church shared a story during a sermon about sleeping in the sanctuary of the church during a church lock-in. (Sanctuary = the place where the service usually takes place. Lock-in - strange event where the teenagers of the church spend the night in the church building with a few gullible willing adult chaperones/ leaders.)

He asked if anyone had ever slept in the sanctuary of a church before... "It's a powerful experience", he said. "If anyone wants to try it, just let me know."

I am not sure he meant a young, teenage girl, but they have a pretty good track record in the bible. Mary, Ruth, Rebecca, you know.

I told my parents I wanted to do it. They talked to the pastor and that's how it came to be that I slept on a pew in the front of the church. My mom came with me, but she slept on some big, comfy (hopefully) couches in a different room down a hallway.

My pastor had said it was a little spooky... you alone in a big empty room with the Divine. (Though now I wonder - other than the room square footage - isn't this always true?) I didn't have a spooky experience though.

This week, western Christians celebrate Holy Week. Today is called Holy Thursday by some, Maundy Thursday by others. A traditional service today remembers the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples by retelling that story, the story of how Passover started, and might offer foot washing (digression on how much I love getting our bodies involved in worship) or confession (digression on how much I love opportunities for group confession - and absolution - in church. The sacrament of Communion happens (see above digression about bodies).

And then something powerful happens.

The lights are turned out. Everything is cleared off the altar.

And someone either reads or sings Psalm 22 or Psalm 88. Allow me a few excerpts:
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?... O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent."... "My soul is full of trouble... Why O Lord do you reject me and hide your face from me?... the darkness is my closest friend."

It's just this MOMENT in the year when we stop and together see our darkness. Our need for grace, forgiveness, second, third, fourth, forever chances. As we move through the readings of the week, we find Jesus in a park, pleading, begging his friends to stay awake with him during his own moment of darkness. "Stay here and keep watch with me," he says over and over, but they sleep. (Prolly the four glasses of wine they had earlier... just saying.)

For some reason, I love this day. There is so much happening. Despite Jesus' cryptic warnings, the day  goes from normal to life-changing-in-a-bad-way real quick for the disciples. Kind of like when tragedy strikes for us.

We need this day. We need a place to bring the feelings of failure, the heavy grief over unwanted surprises, the feelings of jealousy or bitterness or anger that we hold on to all while knowing that they only hurt us.

And this is why, after seeing the altar cleared tonight, I didn't want to leave. I just wanted to dwell for a minute, trying to release all the things that I don't need to carry. It's hard, you know? And I thought back to that time I spent the night in the sanctuary. Of all the nights, this seems like the night to sleep in the sanctuary. To try and keep watch.

To be silent, for once, and think about the mystery of it all.

This isn't the first time I've reflected about Holy Week. To read past reflections click here and here.
I've also been reflecting on this article.